New ‘Lips’ album refreshingly inventive

Chris Letso

The Flaming Lips have never been ones to do things the old-fashioned way. Aside from creating their own completely unique brand of weirdo rock, the Oklahoma natives released one of their albums, “Zaireeka,” on four discs to be played simultaneously on different stereos. If that’s not inventive, then neither is lead singer Wayne Coyne’s preferred method of movement during concerts: through the crowd in a giant plastic bubble. So it’s not a surprise that “Embryonic,” the Lips’ new double album, was premiered to the world in a way that’s never been done before and audio streamed on the Web site of Comedy Central’s funniest faux-conservative newsman, Stephen Colbert, after the band performed a new track on his show. Of course, the album’s music completely defies all expectations, too.Right from the opening seconds of the album’s first track, “Convinced of the Hex,” it is clear that the band has once again taken a new musical direction. The glossy electronic production of their last few releases has been replaced by a layered noise-and-guitar approach. The bizarre sound effects and atmospheric synths that the Lips are known for are still there, although this time they sound more Pink Floyd than Daft Punk-lite. That’s not your cell-phone interfering with your speakers in “The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine,” at two minutes into the track: that is in fact part of the format. Meanwhile, the distorted, messy guitar is everywhere on “Embryonic,” something that will be either a turn-off or a godsend to listeners; personally, I can’t get enough of it. Whether it’s playing a catchy riff like that of “See the Leaves” or dark atmospheric noodling on “Powerless,” the sound of the guitars give the album a spaced-out Velvet Underground feel, and what could be better than that?One of the album’s best moments comes on “I Can Be a Frog,” a track which has Coyne whimpering the names of various animals as Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs does her best impressions of said creatures over the phone. The preceding track, “The Ego’s Last Stand,” which is perhaps a sequel to “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” from their 2002 release “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” is a definite highlight, resembling Radiohead’s epic “Paranoid Android” in structure, only more urgent and, of course, strange. It also overshadows its predecessor on “Yoshimi.”While it may be too early to declare “Embryonic” a better effort than “Yoshimi,” it is certainly more refreshing at this point in music. This album borrows more from the rising lo-fi punk scene than it does from the seemingly ever-present electronic indie pop brigade. Or, at the very least, if the Flaming Lips haven’t actually listened to bands like the Black Lips or Blank Dogs, they took a look back into their own catalogue and developed a sound more akin to their past triumph “Clouds Taste Metallic” than their last album of hits and misses, “At War With the Mystics.”As the title suggests, the new album is a rebirth of sorts, and another enthralling album from one of the best bands in the last 20 years.